Kids of Summer

Summers growing up – was anything sweeter? Three months of total, absolute, pure and glorious freedom, fun and adventure. No schedule, no classrooms, no PE, no homework. Nooooo nuns.

There are some things in life that we learn to look back on as an adult and appreciate with the added age and wisdom, but summers are never wasted on the young. Even as a kid we knew they were special.

Oh, there were daily battles with my brother over household chores – disputes about who had been told to do what. “Mom told you to do the dishes,” one of us would charge. “She did not,” the other countered. “I’m calling Daddy.” A wrestling match ensued as we fought over the telephone to be the first to call.

We didn’t dare call Mom. She worked at Sears and Roebuck, and calls were forbidden. Dad was the parts department manager for a Memphis car dealership; we called him a gazillion times a day to rat on each other. The calls went something like this: Me (crying), “Daddy, Ken hit me.” Ken, “Jeanie started it.” Dad, his blood pressure rising, fumed, “Gosh, dang it! Didn’t I tell you…,” rattling off a litany of admonitions and threats. It was fun getting my brother in trouble, but more fun listening to Dad get mad.

My brother and I eventually called a truce and renewed speaking terms. Before long we were playing our home-grown, made-up games. Armed with cocked index finger and thumb, we chased around the house trying to tickle each other, shouting “tick-o-lock,” “tick-o-lock” (the name of the game). We got pretty rambunctious jumping up and down on the beds, sofa and chairs, all the while rollicking in laughter.

Make Moochie Mad was another favorite – Moochie being our beloved, medium-sized Heinz’ 57 pooch. We took turns wrapping up in a blanket on the floor in the bedroom. The other person would agitate Moochie until she was growling, lip-curling, snapping mad. Then, jumping clear, turn her loose to vent her wrath on the person wrapped in the blanket. Moochie attacked with a vengeance, and it was only the thickness of the blanket that protected the “victim” from her teeth. We deserved every bite the Mooch scored, and probably a lot more!

Then there were summer lunches. One favorite was Chef-Boy Ardee Spaghetti which came in a box complete with pasta, marinara sauce and cheese. Wow! What a treat! We thought this was the best stuff in the world – our young taste buds, like our young minds, had much to learn. Following the directions carefully, we boiled the pasta and warmed the tomato sauce on our gas stove (microwave ovens were decades from being invented). A sprinkle of parmesan cheese from the little green can, and voila! Bon appetite, from the fledging chefs of summer.

There was always at least one trip to visit aunt, uncle and cousins. I hated visits to Aunt Rita, Uncle Joe and their 15 kids in Iowa – that was a zoo. Trips to Aunt Nina and Uncle Bill’s, on the other hand, were sure to be a blast. They lived in the tiny West Texas town of Andrews, and were a reasonable-sized family of five, at the time. I lived in awe of my Texas cousins – they wore blue jeans to school, and lived next to a real ranch with real horses.

We piled into our green, 1949 Dodge and headed west with windows rolled down and wind blowing through our hair. We begged Daddy to stop at every Stuckey’s, whined about “having to go,” pumped our arms at every semi that thundered passed and played endless rounds of I-See-Something-You-Don’t-See until there was nothing left to be seen between Tennessee, Texas and back. The absolute highlight of the trip, though, was staying overnight in a roadside motel. Mom was particular. Wherever we stopped had to pass her inspection, but for us kids there were only two requirements – a TV and a swimming pool. We might as well have been in paradise.

Summers were filled with their own special sights, sounds and smells – the scent of an approaching rainstorm, an afternoon shower raining down while the sun shined on, and rainbows stretching high in sky. The cicadas’ shrill pitch pierced the summer still and our ears, lightening bugs entrapped in glass jars enchanted with their faint glow, our bare feet stung from crushed bees discovered too late, and our scab-encrusted mosquito bites were badges of courage. We ate corn on the cob one row at a time, jumped in glee at the sound of the ice cream man’s approaching cart, ate icy cold watermelon dripping down our chin and arms. We raced our bikes around the block, played baseball in the backyard, went cane pole fishing down at the park, and looked in wonder at star-filled night skies.

Happy, simple times they were. Buried within each of us still, I believe, is that kid of summer. Wanna come out and play again?

Author’s Note: This appeared in the Almanac of Arlington Heights.